Ryohei Kondo, who founded the popular male dance troupe Condors in 1996, is always brimfull of innovative ideas — even when they’re garbed in traditional clothing.
When Maimi Sato, Saitama Arts Theatre’s head producer of dance, asked the choreographer to interpret a Japanese folk tale of his choosing, the result was 2006’s “Nezumi no Sumo” (“Rats’ Sumo”), based on a story of the same name and performed by Condors dancers.
This weekend, the theater revisits that piece in the second installment of its Nihon Mukashi Banashi no Dance (Dancing Japanese Old Tales) series, where it shares a double bill geared to all ages with “Issunboushi” (“One Inch Boy”), a new piece by Naomi Shimotsukasa, a young choreographer Sato invited on board after seeing the work of her company, Dorobo Taisaku Light.
Although touring with Condors to more than 20 countries has made Kondo famous around the world of contemporary dance, one of the pillars of his career has also been movement-art for children in Japan.
Despite having grown up in various South American countries as his father’s job moved the family around, the 46-year-old artist told The Japan Times recently that he was never far from his Japanese roots, explaining, “Dance is a very important communication tool, and Japanese folk tales are very deep and interesting.”
From 2004-09 he worked with national broadcaster NHK on its children’s television show, “Karada de Asobo” (“Let’s Move our Bodies”); while this time around, he said, “I chose ‘Nezumi no Sumo’ because it’s still not so well-known, and I like the story’s ambiguity.”
Shimotsukasa feels much the same about “Issunboushi,” saying in a recent Japan Times interview: “Even the heroes have normal day-to-day lives and they become stronger with someone’s help. So our job as choreographers is to create clear, simple stories, even if the theme is heavy or complicated.”
Shimotsukasa, 30, whose works typically combine dance, drama and humor, aims to bring the same ingredients to this traditional story of an inch-tall samurai who cleverly defeats a demon.
As she explained, “It is not an accident that Issun Boshi became who he was; it was because of lots of things in his everyday, simple life with his grandparents. I wanted to share my imaginary story of how he was living and interacting, because his honesty and flexibility are what we need right now in the world.”
Though speaking separately, each artist noted how both these stories combine universality with Japanese ideals.
As Kondo put it, “I wanted to share some essence of Japanese culture, and I wanted the audience to see the rich and varied Japanese dance world.” Shimotsukasa said she believes: “We stand on the stage in front of children who are honest; we must be honest ourselves.”
Dancing Japanese Old Tales comprises two double-bill shows daily from 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. For details, visit www.saf.or.jp.